La Paix des ruches (The peace within the beehive) was published two years before Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and precedes the feminist novels of the latter half of the 20th century.
As the novel’s protagonist Jeanne Bornand writes her diary, she comes to the conclusion that her marriage has failed. She declares at the outset,
I don’t think I love my husband anymore.
The lucid evocation of her feelings, as well as the relevance and subtlety of the reflections that assail her, give her words a dimension that goes beyond the personal sphere to encompass the entire female condition. The supporting characters in the novel portray various intimate relationships. Clara, Elisabeth, Marguerite and Sylvia all experience unhappy love lives. Rivals also facing fates where they are left short-changed, when it comes to the trials and tribulations of love, they nevertheless empathise with a ‘sisterly’ bond.
Despite the insignificance of the male characters, or even their absence, which further reinforces the feeling of a world where female dominance prevails and solidarity is not an empty promise, the women here are not the only victims of marital life: Philippe, Pierre, Eric, Chaumont and Stéphane move through the novel like faint shadows. Etienne Dechamp is the only fleshier character and who seems to form a livelier relationship, which leads Jeanne to become aware of a certain complexity in relationships:
Thus, for the first time, I had before me a man who was aware of the tragedy of the couple.
The novel concludes with a fundamental question. Can the love that the heroine dreams of ever exist? The quotation from Briefe an einen jungen Dichter (Letters to a Young Poet) by the Austrian poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke, at the heart of the novel, seems to provide an answer:
And this more human love […] will resemble what we are now preparing painfully and with great struggle: the love that consists in this: the two solitudes protect and border and greet each other.
(letter Rome 14 May 1904)